Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Liana, Sam & Kenzie

Kansas baptism


I made a reference in the story about my dad for Father's Day of his getting baptized in a country pond as a kid. Anyhow, it reminded me of a painting by one of my favorite artists, John Steuart Curry. I learned of Curry and his contemporaries, when taking Bob Keckeisen's Kansas History class at WSU.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bible school alumnus


My boy Sam lasted two days in Vacation Bible School then told me he didn’t want to go back. I’m always encouraging my kids to get out of the house and get involved with life, but I didn’t try talking him out of it.

“I’m proud of you for giving it a try, son,” I said.

Sam was through with the “mean kids,” especially this boy – some future community corrections inmate who likes to throw rocks at other children at VBS.

While dropping Sam and his sister, Kenzie, off at the church Tuesday morning, I asked my son: “What are you gonna’ do if that kid throws rocks again?”

“Just ignore it,” he answered, telling me what he thought I wanted to hear.

“No son, if someone’s pullin’ that bullcrap – throwing rocks – you tell a grown-up right away. He could put somebody’s eye out, throwing rocks.”

“I’m with you,” a woman standing by us at the sign-up table said. She had a silver piercing in her nose and was holding the hand of a little girl who looked to be her daughter. That woman had to go to work, just as I did. Otherwise, I would’ve stuck around benevolently – a volunteer guarding the innocence of children as I busted the hellions and stone throwers like a hard-ass cop.

So I was cool with Sam not going. Kenzie could still go if she wanted to. Her experience had been better than Sam’s. Kenzie is 6 and she felt important, helping with the 3 and 4-year-old kids. Still, when Sam bailed out, she didn’t want to go either. She usually goes along with what her brother does.

Once I lived in a world like theirs. Many years and thousands of lost, pissed nights and bottles of booze ago, I attended vacation Bible school. We sang songs: “Have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all our troubles” and played outside games like Simon Says and Red Rover.

I saw mean kids there, a few mean adults and some good people. While close in age to what my kids are now, I was neither the by-the-book rule follower my son is, nor the off-beat, (sometimes) quiet rebel my daughter is. There was an intermediate quietness about me that occasionally collapsed, such as when I had to say two nice things about a fellow Bible schooler’s elementary after I totally trash talked her school in a moment of grade school rivalry.

Neither I, nor any of the other kids, quite captured the level of depravity projected body and soul in this particular red-haired boy. Don’t remember his name and after two summers in VBS I never saw that kid again. He was all boy, a bred-in-the-bone mischief maker and terrorizer of little girls everywhere. A likeable little demon child who had to be pure hell for the ladies trying to run the whole show.

So we’d sing songs about how “if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack.” Bible school got out, mothers approached in the parking lot and this kid bolted, singing in ignorant child-like blasphemously, “The devil made Jesus sit on a tack.”

Ouch!

Well, what do you expect? We saw WASPy images of a puny figure in a white gown. Not a man toughened by first century carpentry labor. This kid was unconsciously tapping into the J.C. and Satan caricatures that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would one day bring to comedy life on South Park.

Somewhere in the cracks of childhood, I think existed Jesus speaking Beatitudes to thirsting townspeople.

And a Satan more subtle than anything the superstition artists might have imagined.

I don’t remember any kids throwing rocks at VBS. Not saying it never happened, just that I don’t remember. It was a long time ago. One day while kids were at various play stations on the parking lot, my eyes grazed over a wiffle ball game, where to the side, a VBS helper was jerking the arm of this scrawny, awkward girl and giving her a tongue-lashing for not following directions or some stupid thing.

That woman’s son was in my class at school, said he got a spanking every day. He moved away after 4th grade. Never saw him again and somewhere around that age, after VBS at three or four churches, I didn’t go to Bible school anymore. Grew out of it, I guess.

Back in the 1950s, my mom was a Bible school kid. One day, she walked on to a bus, while wearing a lovely white dress. Too old to believe all that crap about Santa and the tooth fairy, she had the first of many monthly visits from the crimson fairy. Last time she ever wore that dress.

So many roads. When we’re walking and my boy reaches for my hand, I feel relieved. There’s still time.

A friend of Liana’s invited us to her church tomorrow. We’ll give it a go. We’ll get through life. I’m just a guy trying to save his kids from the sons of bitches in this world. I’ll pray that they can live in a world where people treat each other more kind.

And I’ll hope somewhere that red-haired kid is giving em’ hell.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day


My boy, Sam, keeps asking me to take him fishing. I’m determined – we have to go. I have this vague memory from years ago of my dad and grandparents taking us kids fishing at some pond (don’t remember where it was) and Grandma cooking the fish for dinner.

The most salient thing for me was how her fried fish tasted better and completely different from those yucky fish sticks my mom would make from a box.

Dad says I can bring the wife and kids by any time and borrow his fishing poles, but I really hope he and my step-mom, Marcia, come with us. I want to give my kids some time with their grandparents, preserve some heritage for them.

Gerald Guy was a farm kid, lived way in the sticks and he has stories about cool stuff like bailing hay, getting baptized in a country pond and fishing in a nearby stream. The rural Kansas influence endures in the way he drops his g’s, and uses phrases like “I’m gonna learn you to” do such and such.

Many times in life, I’ve been too quick to make judgments and not look at the entire picture. Once I was working in a convenience store with this 70-year-od woman, a Beech Aircraft retiree. I started kvetching about my dad. “The old man doesn’t get me,” I said. “His advice is so lame. He’s full of crap.”

“Just be thankful you’ve got a dad,” she said.

I had no idea her words would re-enter my mind and resonate so deeply these past few years. If I’ve had any resentments toward either of my parents, I’ve replaced bitterness with forgiveness. I can appreciate now the hardships of life they have dealt with. Empathy is something I’ve had to develop.

I was helping the old man clean out his garage and doing other chores this past Saturday. He and Marcia will be moving from the house in the country where they’ve lived for the past 25 years and into a new home in town. So we were preparing for an auction they’ll have this next Saturday.

Dad’s arthritis started gradually when he was a few years older than I am now. I figure that’s what led him to enlist my help last weekend with the bending, lifting and carrying work. I’m a little sad that he’s not as sinewy as I remember. I watched him stepping forward slowly, a bit hunkered. “Damn Dad,” I said. “You’re even starting to walk like an old man.”

“Hurts like hell too,” he said with a laugh.

It was only later that evening when I was with Liana and the kids at the park – a grassy playground with an old-fashioned wooden sled, monkey bars and tire swing – that I remembered Dad pushing me in the swing as a kid. It was a blast when he’d run underneath you underdog style.

The heat was in the 90s Saturday afternoon, but I had a pleasant time -- sorting motor oil, garden insecticides and car cleaning sprays in another; scrubbing down the riding lawn mower, rotary tillers and other motorized machines after Dad ran the hose over them. If I would’ve helped with such tasks 20 years ago, I would’ve been in a hurry to get done and Dad would have been critiquing every move I made. Either he’s not as uptight or I don’t have my head as far up my ass as I used to. Maybe, it’s both. I just know I felt at ease and happy to be of help.

“Go get Grandpa’s hay hook,” he said. “It’s in the backseat passenger side of the Durango. We’re gonna’ move these T-poles out of the dirt.”

He was referring to some posts left over from a fencing job he put up around his pasture years ago. I used the hook to grab the poles out of the dirt so they can be more easily picked up and loaded into a trailer. Dad told me how his dad, who passed away a few years ago, used the hook to bail hay on his farm. He went on and on about how the hook was around 100 years old and had been welded old school style by a blacksmith.

“Ain’t that somethin’” I said. “Glad we can still use it.”

I had fun getting dirty, grimy and doing manual labor. As a parent, I’m always afraid of not spending enough time with my kids – of working too much, writing too much and being preoccupied – and waking up one morning to find out they’re grown up and I’m stuck singing “Cat’s in the Cradle.” But I think there’s something to be said for kids spending time with their parents too, especially as the parents become older and – let’s face it – become more like kids again, themselves.

There’s this vague memory. I was 4-years-old, maybe 5. The church bus rolled by the house every Sunday morning to pick me up for Sunday school and would take me back home when it was out. Upon coming home, Dad would be sitting in a chair at one end of the room, Mom in another. There was this undercurrent of tension. It wasn’t lost to me.

One day I was there – at the Southern Baptist Church on Oil Hill Road – sitting by myself in a roomful of kids, eating a sack lunch. I heard this deep voice at my back. “What are you doing?” There was my dad, svelte, looking handsome. I was pleasantly surprised, and I felt happy to see him. Heck, I didn’t know he knew where my Sunday school was. (I was a kid who thought my two sets of grandparents weren’t aware of each other.) I don’t know why one fleeting moment sticks with me. Maybe I just felt safe and protected.

Yeah I’m thankful to have a dad. He appears more relaxed and seems to enjoy life more since retiring 10 years ago. I’m happy to see him vital and active -- going to grandkids’ ball games, taking vacations with his wife, joining various morning kaffeklatsches…

We’ll have to go fishing soon.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wings/Paul McCartney - Maybe I'm Amazed (HQ)

Happy birthday Paul.

When I'm 69


I recently sent an email to a friend. “See you at Paul’s birthday bash, if not in person, then in spirit.”

We feel solidarity with the thousands of people out there extending happy birthday wishes to Paul McCartney. Or as he’s known by the queen, Sir Paul.

Our email exchange was in reference to RSVP’s we made on Facebook to attend a party celebrating McCartney’s 69th birthday. Naturally, the more than 5,000 people who signed up – and the thousands more marking the event across the world – won’t be gathered in one place. That’s impossible, but when people from across the globe are joined together out of a love for arts, culture and human connection, one has to surmise that maybe lofty things are possible.

Sarah Mourad, a Muslim from Cairo, Egypt, created the “event.” McCartney was a working class English kid, the son of a devout Catholic mother and an agnostic Protestant father. However, through art and music, McCartney, like the other three lads from his old Liverpool band, has brought people together from across national, religious and geographic boundaries.

It says something about humanity that these four un-saintly young men could transcend personal flaws and find bridges across psychological divides. Too bad they couldn’t always overcome bitterness among themselves and those closest to them the way they could inspire harmony with others.

But time is a healer. (The man praised Pete Best’s book about his mother, the Beatles’ early days and the Casbah.) With age, we make peace with internal demons and realize that life is short. This celebration encapsulates everything Paul is about.
His is a voice for peace as he fights for things like getting rid of landmines, seal hunting, animal rights, reversing global warming and nullifying third world debt. He witnessed the 911 terrorist attacks while sitting in a plane on the tarmac at JFK airport and helped organize the Madison Square Garden concert for New York City. He has advocated for Burmese political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and has asked people to give up meat for just one day out of the week so to reduce CO2 emmissions.

Paul isn’t slowing down. He’s a prime example of how to grow old gracefully.
I’m ambivalent about Facebook. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my blogs and connect with people, but I value my privacy. It’s the same resistance to change that leaves me – a die-hard vinyl man -- conflicted about Beatles songs being available on Apple iTunes.

While I’m happy that Beatles music is more accessible to a new generation via their mode of listening to music, I have trouble imagining their songs for a .99 cent digital download right along with Kid Rock, Katy Perry, Beethoven, the White Strips…To me, the songs represent a body of work and I view "I’ve Just Seen a Face" as being inseparable from Rubber Soul. Same with "Here, There and Everywhere" and Revolver, "Rocky Raccoon" and the White Album. From a pragmatic perspective, I know it’s a good thing, though. It keeps their music out there.

An avant garde artist like McCartney, I think would embrace change more easily. In that respect, I guess I identify more with John Lennon, my favorite Beatle. I would gear more toward the traditional rock numbers on side one of Abbey Road than the fluid medley on side two. Still I love it all, all the diversity.

McCartney has committed sins. One of the most baffling questions circling my mind is how someone can create such opuses as “Hey Jude,” “Get Back,” “Let it Be,” and “Band on the Run,” then turn around and write “Silly Love Songs.” But no artist is going to rock the casbah every time.

I respect Paul for his overall artistry, which I see as an extension of his inclusive worldview. It was around five, maybe six years ago. I was reading a Reader’s Digest article about McCartney. He talked about how he had spoken with Colin Powell in his campaign to stop landmines, saying “I have a lot of respect for him.” I thought, “How cool is that?” -- this man who helped define ‘60s rock having something of a friendship with this military general who served in both Bush administrations.
Paul has a lot of friends out there and I’m happy that we can get together and celebrate the birthday of a cool guy.

If only in spirit.